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Surveylab's ike Pocket PC review
Posted on 23-Mar-2004 20:34 by M Freitas | Filed under: Reviews

Surveylab's ike is a very rare and unique Windows Mobile Pocket PC. It's unique because of its configuration and feature list, and rare because so few of these are around the world. I am told that only about ten of these were built, with another batch being in production soon to attend demand.

When I first found about the ike I thought that it was an interesting handheld. From my point of view, not only interesting because of its capabilities, but also due to the fact that the company behind it, Surveylab, is based here in Wellington, New Zealand.

I first contacted Surveylab to ask for more information to write on a news article for Geekzone. The resulting article was featured on Slashdot the day after it went live. When I commented about this to a colleague, he replied "I know the guys on Surveylab". And from there we arranged to have the ike for a review.

Ok, this was the story behind this review, but what is ike? In short it's a data capture device. A range of devices are integrated in a ruggedised case, making it ideal for field use. Its spec sheet claims resistance to a 1m drop onto a concrete floor. I haven't tested this .

The ike is not a light handheld. It weighs 1050g, and dimensions are 260mm x 110mm x 70mm. Its shape remember that of a famous Star Trek instrument: the tri-corder.

The Otter case

First view of the ike

Top view

Bottom view

Using it

This Pocket PC was created to be used in specialised data capture, and companies that need this kind of device will find its price tag of US$8,500 compatible with its resources and the kind of work it will be used with. The main market are companies that need location information. Power companies, city councils will probably find use for ike. Other uses could involve rescue operations and forestry industry, for example.

Ok, now we know how it looks, how heavy (or light) it is, and what kind of companies will use it. But what exactly does it do?

The main part of this device is a modified HP iPAQ h5550. The ike runs Windows Mobile 2003 Premium OS, on an Intel XScale 400MHz. User memory is 128MB SDRAM, with 48MB Flash ROM and an option of 128, 256 or 512MB SD card for storage of captured data. The TFT LCD is the same as the h5550, capable of showing 65K colours with 320 x 240 resolution.

The iPAQ h5550 running under the hood

The battery is not the original, and is intended to power the handheld for up to eight hours with a full charge. It can be charged from the mains or from a car adapter.

The Bluetooth and Wi-Fi from the original Pocket PC are still functional, and I actually used Bluetooth to synchronise the ike instead of its USB cable.

The list of instruments integrated into this handheld is impressive:

  • A 12 channels GPS unit (accuracy of single point < 5m and DGPS < 1m). I experienced a very quick fix when using the GPS, but the specs say that a cold start should take 2 minutes, while a hot start is 15 seconds. Signal is reacquired in less then 1 second if the device experiences less then five seconds obscuration or less then 3 seconds if more than that.

  • A digital camera. The preview resolution is 160x120, but images can be captured with up to 1280x1024 and 24 bit colour. I found that this camera and software are supplied by a company called LifeView. You can see an example of picture taken with the built-in camera here.

  • The laser range finder. It's a Class 1 (eye safe) laser device, with a maximum range of 100m, and 0.5m accuracy.

  • Digital compass

  • Inclinometer

    So, how all this works? Easy showing the images of its Sample DCA (Data Capture Application). Once you start the application it'll show a camera preview and a crosshair. This crosshair is where the laser range finder is pointing at the moment.

    The Sample DCA with the laser crosshair

    Note that after capturing the information I was presented with two sets of data: where I was standing, and where the target was. Note on the next screen capture that the car position and altituted were a little different from my own. And that's where all the magic happens. The ike knows where I am. The laser range finder gives the distance from me to the target. The inclinometer tells me the altitude of the target, and the compass gives the direction, to calculate its final position.

    After capturing the information

    The data and images are stored on the SD card, and a special application can be used to transfer this to a laptop or desktop, once the device is connected via ActiveSync. Images are transferred to a specific folder, and location data is transferred as a .CSV file. The file contains all the information captured, including the image file name.

    The synclite application

    The ike also integrates well with ESRI ArcPad software. ArcPad is a mobile mapping and geographic information system (GIS) application and platform. ArcPad provides database access, mapping, GIS, and global positioning system (GPS) integration, and it's completely integrated to ike when installed:

    Current position and satellite fix

    If you know Wellington, you'll recognise this

    My position when testing the ike

    Companies and individuals interested on this device will find a SDK is available. Users can write their own embedded Visual Basic or Visual C++ applications, and use the SDK to control each one of the integrated devices, together or separately. Developers can define the type of information required when capturing data, what is stored and transferred, and manage integration with the ArcPad software. The application can store information and plot points on a map, showing specific information when the user taps on each point, including the captured image.

    I was told that the company will work on a Windows CE .Net device in the future, to reduce the dependence on specific PDA models.

    So, does ike know everything? If not everything, it's pretty close. It knows for sure where I am, and where my target is. It definitely shows the kiwi ingenuity to the world, and has lots of potential .

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